Rise and Lead

With the fog of the massive disruptions of the last few years finally clearing, it’s prime time for Christian leaders to think, dream, and create a preferred future. And there’s no better way to do so than through a flourishing team. 

Reframing your outlook can lead to a bright future. In a world without disruption, leadership is not required. You simply manage what is. But tomorrow’s world marked by disruption requires innovation, imagination, and resilience. These are today’s marks of leadership. 

This is our call to your team: Do not settle for longing for the past or even managing what is now. Instead, rise and lead. Embrace the world as it is and lead through it, engaged fully with these new realities before you: 

New reality 1: Today’s world generally distrusts leadership. Culturally, much of what used to be accepted practice and understood norms for leadership and followership has largely vanished. Often in today’s new world, 

  • Direction is seen as dominance. 
  • Clarity is equated with control. 
  • Expectations are viewed as burdens. 
  • Accountability is called abuse. 

Of course, domineering, controlling, abusive leaders do exist (and they should be confronted, corrected, and if necessary, rooted out, for that brand of “leadership” is unacceptable). But the cultural conception of leadership itself is now often cast in those categories whether deserved or not. Leaders of the future must recognize the skepticism and altered expectations of those they lead. Resilient teams will provide a healthy context for directive leadership and accountability, with protections offered when that leadership goes awry. 

New reality 2: Team leadership is here to stay. Back in the old days (2015) when Warren and Ryan released Teams That Thrive, solo leadership paradigms were a dime a dozen, championed by nationally prominent leaders who sought to train individualistic leaders in their image. In the intervening years, when so many leaders imploded either personally, organizationally, or both, their stories have been memorialized in podcasts, the predominant news media of our time. These leadership collapses spurred a tectonic shift in followers’ expectations of those they allow to lead them. More and more, followers expect humility, the willingness to not only acknowledge but also organize based on an understanding of personal weakness, and to focus on personal and relational spiritual health. With these, followers hope they will be protected from the fall of that single leader. They expect leadership to be done by a team—for protection, for health, for trust, and for greater effectiveness. 

New reality 3: Your team is largely a new team. The Great Resignation that started in 2021 has transformed—or will transform—the membership of your team. Your team was likely not immune to this unprecedented shuffle. You may have said goodbye to trusted (or distrusted) colleagues, and hello to others, who brought new desires and requirements with them. 

New reality 4: Your new team comes with new expectations. Fewer employees willingly put work at the center of their lives; they require their workplaces to be places where they can pursue work that’s meaningful to them while they balance other desires in life. Team leaders who ignore this new reality will see continual turnover and, more importantly, will bang their heads against the wall when they just can’t seem to generate momentum on their given tasks. 

The greatest consequence of the Great Resignation was not team makeup but the Great Reset of employee expectations. 

New reality 5: The pandemic may be officially over, but its effects will ripple for years to come. Communication scholars like to talk about the “afterlife of a conversation”—the residue, good, bad, or indifferent, from a conversation that never goes away. The residue of the pandemic will never go away. This is no real surprise, but it deserves underlining: those you serve—your church, customers, clients, and constituents—have developed new ways of doing just about everything, whether attending church, engaging in spiritual community, buying goods, or pursuing entertainment. They’re never fully going back to prepandemic ways of thinking. These changes are here to stay. For your church or organization to thrive in the future, you must align with this new reality. A thriving team will help you discern and then move toward new markets and new meaning-makers. 

New reality 6: The worldand your teamcarries new levels of tension and stress. Former Saddleback pastor Rick Warren recently named five huge storms that the world has weathered in the last few years: global infirmity, social instability, racial inequality, financial insecurity, and political incivility. We’re sure you’ve been touched by most if not all of these storms. Though any one of these storms is enough to cause heightened tension and prolonged stress, you have been facing all five at the same time! Your team will be required to lean into the aftermath of these storms, address the very real challenges and tensions experienced in your community and press toward unity in your community. 

New reality 7: Everyone’s exhausted. Though bright spots shimmer on the horizon, the reality is that your team is tired from the pandemic’s long, gradual draining of their reserves. Your team members don’t just need to be pushed toward a reenergized mission; they need to be seen and cared for. Look at the statistics across society on stepping back and giving up. At a recent Global Leadership Summit, noted Christian psychologist Henry Cloud shared that diagnosable mental health issues rose from 17 percent to over 40 percent during 2021 and 2022. The leaders who see and care for their team—even while pursuing grand efforts—will experience greater impact and lesser turnover, building momentum that drives their organizations into the future. 

New reality 8: Too many of today’s leaders were trained in yesterday’s school of leadership. Remote work is here to stay, more and more people will cobble together their income from a conglomeration of side hustles, and your organizational values will attract or repel more potential staffers than ever before. While Jesus and our foundations in Scripture don’t change, people’s assumptions, perspectives, and cultural context continually change, as do the tools available to us. If you were trained in the old school of teams, it’s time to learn in the new school—and that will require you to unlearn some principles and practices that worked for you in the old world but won’t drive success for teams in the new world. 

While Jesus and our foundations in Scripture don’t change, people’s assumptions, perspectives, and cultural context continually change, as do the tools available to us. 

Could Your Current Team Face Anything and Thrive? 

Against challenging odds your team stands ready to press toward the new vision God has given you to build your church, fulfill your mission, grow your organization or business, bless your community, and participate in the redemptive work that God is still doing. Of course, he never stopped working, despite the sometimes overwhelming challenges that are now largely in the rearview mirror. 

But you’re probably recognizing, like so many, that the status quo just won’t cut it anymore. Though the mission hasn’t changed, the ground has shifted dramatically! Leaders who will excel in this brave new world will embrace and lead from the realities previously listed, building resilient teams that will be able to face anything. 

Adapted from The Resilience Factor by Ryan T. Hartwig, Léonce B. Crump Jr., and Warren Bird. ©2023 by Warren Bird, Léonce Crump, and Ryan T. Hartwig. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com